At least five people were reported dead and dozens more injured in a bus-truck collision that set off a huge fire in an expressway tunnel on the outskirts of South Korea’s capital Seoul on Thursday.
Images of the scene in local media showed huge flames and puffs of smoke rising from the tunnel as hundreds of firefighters fought to bring the fire under control.
The fire started when a bus collided with a truck around 13:50 (4:50 GMT) in an expressway tunnel in Gwacheon, a Gwacheon fire department official told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
An elevated tunnel meant to shield surrounding buildings from road noise quickly caught fire, local media images showed.
Firefighters have brought the blaze under control, officials said.
“We are conducting a search inside the tunnel in case of additional victims,” the official added.
Initially claiming that six people were killed, authorities reduced the death toll to five, with 37 people injured.
According to the official, some of the victims received burns.
“Three received facial burns, the rest are being treated for carbon monoxide poisoning,” he said.
Interior Minister Lee Sang-min urged “maximum resources” to save lives, Yonhap news agency reported.
“I call on the authorities to make every effort to save the lives of those who did not manage to escape,” he said.
The fatal accident comes just months after 150 people, mostly young women, were killed in a Halloween stampede in the Itaewon nightlife district.
South Korea’s rapid transformation from a war-torn backwater to Asia’s fourth largest economy and thriving democracy is a source of great national pride.
But a number of preventable disasters, including the Itaewon and the Sewol ferry sinking that killed more than 300 people in 2014, have shaken public confidence.
Many South Koreans wonder if safety standards have been sidelined and rules ignored in the rush to develop, when long accidents have left a legacy of bitterness and mistrust.